Recent studies, focusing on both the millennial and the elderly, reveal that loneliness is a growing epidemic which one article, quoting from Mother Theresa, calls a “deadly form of poverty”¹ This dilemma, though painted with a broad brush, cannot be overlooked and ignored. Loneliness is a real emotion that is felt by millions of people across the globe. In fact, recent reviews of studies has proven that loneliness increases the mortality rate by upwards of 26% and is on par with the epidemics of obesity and substance abuse. But why is our world feeling lonely?
Think about that last question: why is our world feeling lonely? Pivot such a question off the knowledge of social media and the fact that we are more closely-connected as a society than at any other time in human history. Right now, with the mere touch of a button, I can enter your world via Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or a myriad of other social media fronts. In mere moments I can enter the live-stream of countless individuals across the world and watch, mere inches from a screen, the world of other human beings as they traverse across globe.
In one moment I can be at Disneyworld with distant family and in the next, boarding an airplane as one flies out to the Windy City for a business meeting. While this may all seem a wonderful blessing, it really has become the contentious curse of modern-day culture that is lending toward the feelings of isolation and loneliness. How so? Social media is breaking down the value of “face-to-face” interaction which, in turn, is developing an insecure society that is feeling more and more disconnected from the very society they are desperately trying to interact with.
Suddenly, we are being offset by a millennial generation whose real-world problems involve the anxiety of acceptance, rejection, and participation, all of which are being viewed through the lens of social-media. I want to take a moment here and speak a word of caution, which I’ve had to speak to myself as well: just because many of us may look at these issues, shake our heads, and count it as nothing more than the evidence of a soft, pampered generation doesn’t change the reality of these issues and emotions within a generation that has been ON from the moment of their birth.
Yes, we are living in the era of Truman children, (based off of Andrew Niccol’s screenplay of Truman Show). From the moment of our children’s births, we are broadcasting every birthday, every milestone, and every coveted moment across the world-wide-web and social-media. The moment our children are born, they are born into the world of ON. iPads, iPhones, iPods, XM, Android…on and on the list goes, but something is always on. I’m amazed to observe small children, no older than six or seven, scroll through the social-media feeds of their parents or, and this is increasing at alarming rates, their own social-media accounts.
What is happening? While we are discounting the rising epidemic of loneliness, often portraying or perceiving it as a sign of weakness, we are introducing and engaging our children and churches into a realm of isolation. We are disconnecting by connecting and, whether we want to admit it or not, countless numbers of individuals will wake up every morning and try their best to rationalize reality with an inner, emotional turmoil; a vacancy that cannot be captured in words but, like one young man expressed to me not long ago, “I feel like I’m standing surrounded by people and I’m screaming for them to look at me, but nobody seems to hear me.” This is an epidemic.
The Lonely Man and Creation
When God created man, man was created after His image and likeness. I believe this included the aloneness of God’s nature. According to scripture, there is none beside Him (Deut. 4:35). The word utilized here of the Hebrew for none beside him is foundational to the monotheistic faith of the Hebrew people. It is the exclusivity of Yahweh’s singularity, not as (a) god, but the Only True God (Jn. 17:3). However, though man was created in the image and likeness of God, he was not God. Yet, within the context of the living world, Adam was, as a human being, uniquely alone in that no living creature was his equal.
God needs no assistance in the development, formation, and propagation of life for, “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made, ” and “in him was life…” (Jn. 1:3-4a). Contrast Adam, the first human being, and the propagation of life in order to establish and replenish the earth while realizing dominion could not be accomplished without help. In this sense, it was not good that man should be alone.
All of the commandments of God as they related to the propagation of life, within the animalistic kingdoms, were achieving success because every creature found within its species the countering agency of partnership. Function was being accomplished through the union of equality. The earth and seas were teeming with life and yet, as God surveyed creation, man was alone and it was NOT good!
Man, created in the image of God, was a creative agency that was meant to express the dignity and majesty of his Maker. However, Adam could not accomplish such expressions in his lonely condition. Success was contingent upon partnership, not just with God, but along the horizontal lines of human equality. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a modern Jewish Rabbi and Philosopher, states that, “man in solitude has no opportunity to display his dignity and majesty, since both are behavioral social traits.” ²
The creation of woman was the divine response to the dilemma of mans aloneness. God had, through divine initiative, stated, “I will make him an helpmeet [ֵעזֶר ] for him” (Gen. 2:18). It is important to note, in relation to the word helpmeet, that…
While this word [ֵעזֶר ] designates assistance, it is more frequently used in a concrete sense to designate the assistant. (Cf. Gen 2:18, 20 where Eve is created to be Adam’s help[er].) As to the source of the help, this word is generally used to designate divine aid, particularly in Psalms […]³
[helpmeet]….is a relational term; it designates a beneficial relationship; and it pertains to God, people, and animals. By itself, the word does not specify positions within relationships; more particularly, it does not imply inferiority. Position results from additional content or from context. Accordingly, what kind of relationship does ‘ezer entail in Genesis 2:18, 20? Our answer comes in two ways: (l) the word neged, which joins ‘ezer, connotes equality: a helper who is a counterpart. (2) The animals are helpers, but they fail to fit ‘adham. […] their similarity is not equality. ‘Adham names them and thereby exercises power over them. No fit helper is among them. And thus the narrative moves to woman […]. God is the helper superior to man; the animals are helpers inferior to man; woman is the helper equal to man4
When God made woman He was making a human helper that would represent God in fulfilling the commandments of Genesis 1:28. Out of this development, man and woman, would emerge family, and out of family would emerge society and community; all byproducts that stemmed out of God’s response to the “not good” condition of man’s loneliness.
It is important to understand that helpmeet [ֵעזֶר ] meant more than a sexual relationship realized in “they shall become one flesh.” The aspect of sexual union, while an intimate aspect of marriage, was the fundamental means by which the commandment to replenish the earth was to be fulfilled. Being a helpmeet involved a mutually beneficial relationship that aloneness cannot achieve. Aloneness utilizes such words as: exclusive, one-sided, single, sole, or unilateral. None of these adjectives can accompany ideologies such as: community, family, relationship, collective, or cooperative.
This is why loneliness is such an important issue in our society, especially in light of the prevalent, emotional duress being reported by myriads of individuals today. People are lonely and being lonely, while it doesn’t mean one is isolated in the context of Adam’s aloneness, is NOT GOOD! Young people, old people, preachers, saints, children, parents, mothers, and fathers; no-one is beyond the reach of feeling alone!
Think about the prophet Elijah who, after standing up against the prophets of Baal without the support of anyone but God, sat under a juniper tree after fleeing from Jezebel and declared, “it is enough now, O Lord, take away my life!” (I Kgs. 19:4). Where do such emotions arise? How does one reach such depths of despair after so great a victory? While the reasons could have been several-fold, one express reason that someone like Elijah could fall to such despair is expressed a few verses later:
I Kings 19:10 I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Was it companionship that Elijah was wanting? Was it the intimate relationship of marriage he desired? No, I don’t think so. In this instance the prophet makes it clear. “I have been jealous for the Lord God of hosts….and I, even I only, am left!” In other words, “I’m tired of doing this on my own!” Oh, if a dollar could be secured for every time those who sought to do a work for God felt this way! How many outreach ministries, evangelism ministries, church-plants, and other works of God have been abandoned because people felt overwhelmed by “doing it alone?” If Elijah can feel this way, what does that say about us? Don’t soon forget that Elijah was a man “subject to like passions as we are” (Jam. 5:17). This feeling of aloneness is destroying marriages, breaking apart families, devouring ministries, and sitting in silent anguish on church pews all across our nation. It is an epidemic that is being overlooked or falsely labeled as either spiritual oppression, depression, or the emotional undercurrent of the needy and immature. However, before you embed your opinions in granite, it would be wise to think further upon this issue.
In the next post we will carefully approach the nature of aloneness, the responsibility of the church, and highlight several key components in the Word of God that bring a greater degree of understanding to this silent epidemic in our churches and our world. Until then….
2- Soloveitchik, Joseph B.. The Lonely Man of Faith (Kindle Locations 379-380). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
3- TWOTs.v.ֵעזֶר (translated as“help/support/helper/assistance”).
4- Phyllis Trible, “Eve and Adam. Genesis 2-3 Reread,” Andover Newton Quarterly 13 (1972-1973): 251f.; republished in Kristen E. Kvam, Valerie H. Ziegler, and Linda S. Schearing, Eve and Adam. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 432.